Disregard of regulations led to Gene Jones’ ouster at TCHC

By Patrick Hunter Wednesday May 07 2014 in Opinion
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Reading City Ombudsman, Fiona Crean’s report on the human resources practices at the Toronto Community Housing Corporation (TCHC) you would think you are reviewing hiring practices from a few decades ago. It was that bad. It is not that the rules governing hiring and dismissals were not there. They were. But they were, for the most part, ignored.


For these and a number of other cumulative errors in judgement, Eugene Jones is no longer the President and Chief Executive Officer of the TCHC.


“The Board and Gene have mutually decided that a change in leadership will best position Toronto Community Housing to move forward in implementing its strategic plan,” says the Chair of the Board, Bud Purves.


It should not come as a surprise this has happened. We have talked about these concerns before here – concerns which eventually led to Crean’s investigation. Not only does the Toronto Ombudsman confirm many of the allegations, it gives a picture of just how much worse things were. Her report, which she entitles: “Unrule(y) Behaviour”, documents personnel changes that are not only unexpected of a City-owned corporation, but the kinds of behaviour that would make most corporations, public or private, cringe with embarrassment.


A friend who has been human resources management consultant for many years said she has never seen anything like this. And, as she puts it, it was “jaw-dropping”.


The contraventions are considerable. Senior executives were hired into positions which were not posted, job descriptions were not available, hiring before the closing date of the posting where those existed, hiring without proper interview processes and reference checks, promotions to positions – again without job evaluations or descriptions, breakdown in performance assessment – the list goes on.


The report covered June 2012, when Jones was hired, to October 2013. In that time, Crean’s report states that there were 96 new staff hired, including the CEO and the Chief Financial Officer as well as other senior positions. Bear in mind that Crean’s report only deals with non-unionized staff.


“There were either no records or no competitions held in 19 per cent of the external hires…There were also a total of 76 promotions and reclassifications. At the same time, 88 left the TCH, 45 of whom were terminated, 32 resigned or retired.” Needless to say, that many terminations cost the TCHC a bundle.


In this report, Jones assumed his position as president and CEO gave him exclusive rights to make significant changes at the top without following the rules. One could probably say that the Board had finally come to this conclusion following the report it commissioned with Price Waterhouse Cooper (PwC) back in February. As a result, Jones was sent back to school for executive training.


The Board was to meet again this week to look at further changes it should make at the senior levels. If the Vice President of Human Resources is not relieved of his duties, I would be very surprised. I make no claim to being very knowledgeable about the intricacies of human resources administration, but common sense would have told me that if rules and proper processes were not followed, particularly in the kind of corporation this is, there would be hell to pay. Instead, by his own admission, as quoted in Crean’s report, he hired at least one person without following the proper interview process and without reference checks because he had found “the best person for the job”. And, as Jones pointed out in the report, he was never advised by the VP of human resources that he could not do what he did in staff changes, the way he did them.


There is a lot of blame that can be, and should be, handed out in this whole debacle. The human resources vice president is one. The board is not without fault. It failed, in my mind, to do its due diligence, particularly in the appointment of senior executives. It does leave a sense of what else are they missing, particularly in the delivery of services and repairs in their main mission.


But the matter goes back even further. The reasons for the replacement of the previous board and executives seem like child’s play in the current scenario. If you remember, word came to the fore that then senior executives threw a lavish party at the expense of the corporation. The City, under Mayor Ford, forced the board to resign, appointing a one person administrator to turn things around until Jones was hired.


You have to wonder whether Jones went to the Mayor Ford school of administration in the way he handled these appointments. Jones went out to communities, which is fine – handing out his cards: “Call me if you have problem.” Not unlike Ford. But given the enormity of the responsibilities that come with the job, it is difficult – to say the least – to personally handle the potential of thousands of calls and still manage to do the things administratively that are directly in your purview. This is the kind of thing that Ford does.
Jones may have made a connection with the people who reside in the corporation’s assets. But that public relations tool is only a fraction of the responsibilities that he had. It was that lack of balance and an understanding of his role that caused him his job. This is unfortunate.


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